As I work my way through the State Park System, I find myself having to travel further from home to visit new areas. It is hard to make day trips to some of the parks when I have to drive three plus hours. The best part of the day is spent driving, and I have a hard time enjoying the experience because how long it will take to drive home is always in the back of my mind.
One of the parks that falls within this category is the Lake of the Ozarks State Park. You may be familiar with the area if you have watched Netflix’s show *Ozark*. I can’t comment on the accuracy of the show, but I can state for a fact that it is an incredible area.
I have been wanting to visit this park for some time now, so when my wife and I decided to go chose to stay a couple of nights and enjoy as much time there as we could. We’ve had some bad luck camping in the past (rain, cold, etc), so we opted to rent a yurt in the park instead of using our tent. We left after work on a Friday ready for adventure.
It didn't take long for adventure to find us. We used my phone’s GPS for directions, assuming it would direct us to the main gate like it has done for every other park I have visited. We arrived at a picnic site in the dark, with no service, no park map, and no way to know if we were heading in the right direction. It turns out the park is split in two by the lake, and the GPS took us to the wrong side. Fortunately I was able to find a pocket of LTE and look up the coordinates of the yurt. When we finally arrived, we unpacked and went straight to bed.
The Lake of the Ozarks is not a naturally occurring lake, but is instead a reservoir created by the Bagnell Dam on the Osage River. The hydro-electric dam was completed in 1931, resulting in one of the largest man made lakes in the world at the time. The lake contains 627,936,968,455 gallons of water and has 1,150 miles of shoreline, or as they put it in *Ozark*: “more shoreline than the state of California”.
17,500 acres of land around the lake was set aside for a national park, but was instead turned over to the state of Missouri in 1946. The Lake of the Ozarks is the largest state park in Missouri, and it still maintains a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
To say the lake is impressive would be an understatement. During our two night stay we hiked a number of locations across the park, and we were consistently impressed by the grandeur of the lake.
Our time hiking ended up being limited though, because it rained for most of the first day. It was a little disappointing, but we took the chance to enjoy the yurt and explore the nearby town of Osage Beach. As enjoyable as that was, when the rain finally let up we jumped at the opportunity to get out on the trails.
With the sun hanging low in the sky, we followed The Lakeview Bend Trail, a route close to the campgrounds. The path travels around the peninsula, running next to bluffs, along the water, and then back through the campground. Sunset on the lake was definitely one of the best moments on our trip.
After we awoke the next day, we took a second nearby path. The Fawns Ridge Trail shares its Trailhead with the Lakeview Bend Trail, but goes in the other direction. It follows a valley before looping back up the ridge; it also goes past a white tree I spied the previous evening. I couldn’t quite photograph it the way I wanted, but I figure it is worth sharing anyways.
Next we drove to the Bluestem Knoll trailhead. This trail makes a short meandering loop through the widely spaced woods of the parks uplands. According to the parks website, it is similar to how the area would have looked to settlers over two centuries ago.
The final trail we hiked before heading home was in a separate section of the park. The location contains a marina and a public beach, which we took some time to explore before heading up the trail.
Rocky Top Trail is a popular route that provides a great vista of the lake. The trail is technically made up of two 1-mile loops joined at their ends, but you can only get to the view if you do the whole thing.
What could have easily turned in to a bad weekend after a rough start, turned out to be one of the best camping trips I have been on in a while. It was great renting the yurt because we didn’t have to worry about setting up a tent in the dark the first night, and we had room to actually move around during the rain.
We made the best of the weather, taking the opportunity to explore the nearby cities; and once the rain stopped we hiked as much as we could in the time we had left!
It was great visiting in the off season too, despite being one of the most popular parks in the region we barely saw 20 people all weekend. I really enjoy that I was able to experience the park and photograph it at a time that few visitors see.